Before becoming The Musical Doc, there was a time when Varshini Muralikrishnan felt like she was living her life on autopilot.
“I kind of put music aside. I stopped creating and composing. That was something that was very unnatural for me as a person,” said Varshini.
After finishing medical school, Varshini questioned her path and asked herself if she was running a rat race or actually catering to her identity as a person and pursuing what it is that truly made her heart sing.
“I think everything happens when it does for a reason. I needed to take the path of medicine and embark on that chapter in my life. I never regret that, because there are so many aspects of myself I’ve learned through that period of time. Living alone in a different country, learning a new language, studying complex subjects, experiencing life and death, and being away from everything of familiarity and the crazy school/work schedule, I developed discipline and resilience.”
Initially, leaving the world of medicine was a tough call because she realized she had just gone through the long accreditation process and had worked for years to pursue this path.
“To invest time in something and then be like, ‘but this is not really what I wanted in the first place,’ it was mortifying to accept let alone share with anyone.” “It sucks to be like, ‘wow, I invested so much time into something which, well…that’s not what I was put on this earth to do.’”
Going through med school was all part of her journey to finding herself and owning her identity as The Musical Doc, the LA-based singer-songwriter and entrepreneur said. “I do not regret anything because I think it prepared me to walk this path towards my higher calling. There’s a lot of things I learned in that time. I spent a lot of time alone, so I had this whole studio set up in my dorm room where I started writing and just composing and having that alone time, learning to enjoy your own company whether that’s embracing your light or your demons..it’s an element that brings the truth of your existence and art to life.”
After a series of various life events and hitting a place of absolute rock bottom—both mentally and emotionally—she realized it was finally time to rise above and that there was no place to go but up. Through the support of her brother, Varshini put her two weeks notice, dropped everything, and decided to move across the world to Chennai for which started out for a month but ended up becoming two years.
“Going to India that second time to do music, it opened an entire realm of existence in my mind and I would say that was the first step to finding myself and the entity, The Musical Doc,” said Varshini.
While in Chennai, Varshini spent her time singing for different films, doing various concerts and shows with her brother, renowned saxophonist Basanth Muralikrishnan under the banner “The BhaVa Network.” She then came back to LA to perform at the United Nations Headquarters in NY and to work on a “Bollywood Meets Cirque Du Soleil” production, where she was the only female musical director, she said.
Moving back to LA opened different opportunities for Varshini and solidified her reasons for pursuing music full-time. “Do I want to use my creative mind to sing what other people want me to sing, or do I take all these experiences and start opening up about my truth and journey? All of these things helped me find my voice again,” said Varshini.
The road to becoming The Musical Doc wasn’t always easy because there were moments when she was met with the pressure of upholding the model minority myth while simultaneously feeling the itch to break stereotypes and cultural norms.
“It was and still is a difficult task trying to explain to my family and community, I do music and the genre I do (hip hop and r&b) full-time. Culturally speaking, being a woman in the music industry from a cultural background I come from, there are so many hardships I had to deal with,” said Varshini.
“There are so many factors beyond just creating art you have to figure out. Aside from all the questions, comments, and concerns from family/friends, you now have to figure out and think about things you probably would have never even thought about while working a ‘normal’ job. Truth is, we are the divergents–society doesn’t always celebrate us..but I believe that’s also slowly changing.”
Varshini says she always shows love and respect to her fellow creatives and entrepreneurs because she knows the struggle in both her internal and external environments.
“When you are putting a reflection of yourself into the universe, it means everything, there’s a lot on the line. Working towards a reality you hope to create while living and doing what you need to do in the now, that’s a very vulnerable space. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of hard work, and calculated risk to say, ‘screw the system, I’m going to do what brings my soul to life and still thrive.'”
Today, Varshini knows everything was a part of the journey and that her experience in medicine opened up her eyes as a creator, singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur.
In 2018, Varshini officially brought her brand, The Musical Doc, to life. She also dropped her first single, “Strangers” produced by Peter Madana which premiered on Dash Radio and was selected as “Track of the week” on BBC Radio, she explained.
“2018 was a year of building the foundations of my sound, style, content, and team. Yo, shout out to my whole team, they hustle so hard for and with me, I’m always been inspired by each and everyone. To do dope things, you honestly have to surround yourself with dope people. Synergy is everything.”
When she first came up with the idea for her brand, she got a lot of support but also a lot of concerning questions from folks who didn’t quite understand her vision. But Varshini stood true to herself.
“For me, I think one of my biggest things is the message of empowering your higher self and your true calling being true with your journey as a person. Nobody is perfect, I don’t care what race, religion, ethnicity…ultimately we are all human! And I think when people question—what’s the Musical Doc? That’s the direct line for me to connect and say, ‘join me in embracing all that makes us beautifully and unapologetically HUMAN.'”
“I’ve been through quite a lot in my journey thus far and I think music and art have always been the element that helped me express whatever it was I was feeling. I hope that in sharing my truth, it encourages people to stand up for themselves, to love themselves, to embrace themselves, so stand together, to cater to their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual growth and well being. I just want to attract dope energy and create a community where together we rise.”
The next single she is dropping later this year will be called “Melanin and Honey,” produced by AReddy and Peter Madana, which challenges stereotypes and the one-sided idea of beauty.
“I think being a darker skinned South Asian woman, there were a lot of notions or ‘ideologies’ that I was told or had grown up with and dealt with as a person,” said Varshini. She explained that during her time traveling around the world and working in India, she realized the extent of how darker skin tones and melanin still remains something that unfortunately continues to be taboo in not only Indian society but various cultures around the world, she explained. She aspires to show that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.“I always say this: I aspire to inspire women, men, children, and empower people from all over the globe through education, awareness, and artist expression,” she added.
The Gig Economy and Being On Top of Your Hustle
Varshini is a multi-talented creator, artist, educator, musician, and entrepreneur. She acknowledges and understands that young folks constantly need to reinvent themselves, and sees a growing shift from the 9-5 lifestyle.
“Growth is the most important element in anything you’re doing. If you’re not growing, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing. There has to be growth. For me, the only person I’m in competition with myself. I’m always thinking how am I going to step it up more, how am I going to level up, what do I need to do to bring this to life?”
In 2018, Varshini decided to embark on another journey by receiving her credentials from Columbia Business school with a focus on digital strategies for business. The tools she learned through the program have immensely helped her connect with other creatives while learning more ways to push forth her brand and content.
“I have been and always will be a total nerd, I love learning. And honestly it’s something I genuinely enjoy; digital space, content creation, data analytics, and how do you push forth any brand? Studying the individuals and institutions that aspire to create their own culture as opposed to just following trends. There are so many creatives and it inspires me to learn how the market is moving in the realm of the digital world.”
Growing up, Varshini says she saw her parents successfully build their empire from the bottom up, managing various careers as musicians, educators, and business owners. “I had a really good understanding about the business of music and the music business from a very young age from the homefront.”
On top of her music, performance, and managing a variety of businesses, Varshini currently runs her own center for Indian classical music and meditation and has also developed a student base teaching online classes as well. “I also work at a few studios where I teach western singing, voice culture, in various genres.” She also focuses a lot on business strategies and management for various industries on the social media front.
“Having multiple effective streams of income is important and I think with our generation we are embracing that more and more and it’s amazing because you get to optimize all your different talents, you spend time working on what you actually want to work on, and you have more opportunity to create, which is dope.”
Classical Indian Music Influences and the Model Minority Myth
Growing up in Los Angeles, California, Varshini immersed herself in a musical household. She spent her childhood learning classical Carnatic from her parents, who established one of the largest music academies in the U.S., she explained.
“I’ve always been around music, that was kind of the culture of my house. I had so many different influences. I trained in classical Carnatic music, sang in a gospel church choir, did drama and theatre, played piano, French horn, Veena, and basically any instrument I could get my hands on. I was always this weird kid, always humming with a bunch of melodies and sounds running through my head.”
Varshini shares that she identified with music as early as age two. She went on to play several instruments and even toured with her family members. “From the time I could start uttering words or clapping hands, I’ve always been learning music.”
For Varshini, music has always been a very spiritual and grounding experience. “Whether that’s creating sound or something like designing my logo, it’s something I’ve created from the depths of my existence and consciousness. It’s a manifestation from within.”
Varshini shares that Carnatic and Indian classical music really taught her the meditative and spiritual side of music and art. She says she was exposed to both Eastern and Western music and was rigorously trained in both worlds from the age of 2.
“I think as far as voice culture and everything, some of the things I’ve learned are techniques vocally from Indian music.” Indian classical music played a huge role in how she trained her voice. “If you want to look at it from a deeper perspective, it’s the foundation of my spirituality and how I internalize music. But also, from a more technical perspective, I think it’s something that serves a huge basis for how I sing in general.”
In her early years, Varshini was influenced by the model minority myth to excel academically and professionally. “I think that’s just something that always came from the homefront, in the sense of whether that was the community or society, or culturally speaking, that was something that was expected.”
“I wouldn’t say my upbringing was a typical Indian kid upbringing either because my parents also taught Indian classical music and are musicians. But at the same time career-wise, it was still [the idea of], ‘we want you to have a stable career path.’ I understand that from perspective our parents’ generation, they went through a lot. The first generation immigrant struggle is wow, I can’t even imagine that.”
Varshini shared that initially, going into medicine was something her parents wanted her to do. “That’s where the cultural aspect of that comes into play. Growing up South Asian, you’re going to be a doctor or engineer. Initially, it was that.”
But Varshini was also heavily influenced to pursue medicine because she had learned about a major tsunami that hit Chennai and she remembers telling her parents she wanted to do something to help those affected. “I’ve always been an old soul since I was a kid. And so I got this fundraiser concert and raised $12K for tsunami relief and we donated that to a nonprofit. I was helping people rebuild their homes and livelihoods.”
During that summer, Varshini visited Chennai and recalls seeing all the boats and housing made possible through the fundraiser efforts. “I was like, it really went to go help all of these people. We helped raise all this money through music. I realized my passion for people and health, and that I wanted to help and take it beyond. It was a very defining moment and I never regret it because the irony in that is it was music, this opportunity through music, to help people.”
Varshini says she never looks back with regret about her decision to give up medicine in pursuit of her true passion.
“Music brought me to medicine, and medicine brought me back to music.”
-Written by Monica Luhar for Mornings with Moni